For VacationCounts readers living in America, telling the U.S. post office to hold your mail is an easy way to make sure it is minded while you are traveling. One limitation is that you can only put your mail on vacation hold for up to 30 days. Therefore this cannot work for people who have a vacation home, travel extensively, or for expats that are out of the country for extended periods.
The other limitation with USPS vacation mail hold is that you cannot view and respond to important bills and letters when you are away from home. Without a family member or trusted friend that is willing to put in the time and effort to not just pick up your mail but go through each piece, what other options exist?
Online Postal Services
Fortunately there are several services that will receive mail on your behalf and offer ways for you to get it whether you are home or away traveling. Most of these services are a simple hold and forward operation. You redirect your important mail to an address and private mailbox assigned by your mail forwarding service provider. You may have the option to have it held while you are traveling and forwarded to any address worldwide when you need to receive it.
The advantage of a mail forwarder over the U.S. post office is the ability to have your accumulated mail sent to you regardless of whether you are home or away on business or pleasure. Some may even offer you the ability to discard your junk (bulk) mail so you save money by only forwarding the most important mail.
A virtual post box is also critical for those bloggers, freelancers, and self-employed people who run an online business. With a business mailing address, you won’t ever have to ever give out your home address on the Web or in email newsletter sent to your subscribers and customers. You can certainly rent a PO Box at your local post office or UPS Store, but you can save a trip to the mailbox by managing your mail online 24/7 from anywhere in the world.
What is Earth Class Mail
The most advanced service is delivered courtesy of Earth Class Mail. They offer a Virtual MailBox Service that goes beyond the hold and forward model. The biggest difference is their scan-on-demand capability so you can preview and view your mail online.
How does this work? Here is what typically happens when you are using Earth Class Mail (ECM):
ECM sends you a “mail received” email notification when new mail arrives at their processing facility.
A picture of the outside of the envelope is viewable to determine whether to open, recycle, shred, or forward the item.
By clicking to open a letter, ECM will scan all the pages inside and host the PDF file for you to view securely online (SSL encryption).
While viewing the scanned letter you can choose to download it to your computer for safekeeping (I like to keep copies in Google Docs, zip-encrypted for sensitive documents).
After you are finished viewing your scanned mail, you can click to have it recycled or shredded (extra cost).
Whether or not you have a letter opened and scanned, you can always request any item to be forwarded by postal mail to any address worldwide.
Trust is a natural concern for most of us who first learn about virtual mail services and are unfamiliar with Earth Class Mail. To address these concerns, ECM offers several layers of protection which are outlined on their site. This includes security cameras, locked down mail processing rooms, secure data centers, and encryption of files. Is it any more or less secure than letting your mail pile up at home (unlocked mailbox on the street) while you are away for an extended period?